Vlad and I are on an organization kick, and one of the projects on our list was reorganizing our bookshelf. And it probably would have just stayed on a list if my mom and sister hadn’t jumpstarted the process while visiting, so shout out to them.
We built these shelves ourselves out of pipes from Home Depot and wood from a random warehouse in Hell’s Kitchen that we stained at home, which was more challenging than you’d think in our tiny, poorly ventilated NYC apartment. And while the finished product is pretty rad, we were too exhausted to organize beyond throwing all our books up randomly. So it’s looked like this for the last five years:
So what to do? Because I exist on Pinterest, color coding quickly rose to the top.
It turns out that the idea of color coding your books has a lot of hot-takes on the internet—it’s either an overrated fad or a sign of impending cultural illiteracy (I guess they’d prefer the Dewey Decimal system?).
But realistically, I do most of my reading on my kindle. Physical books are no longer primarily a source for knowledge—that’s Google. Now our books are more like emotionally laden objects—like the other doohickeys I collect—that are supposed to say something about ourselves and our sensibilities. So by that logic color coding makes perfect sense. And it’s pretty.
But I ran up against more of the strong feelings that get attached to books right at the beginning of this process.
Step One: Have fewer books
This is probably the hardest part.
Because I had accepted that my relationship with books is more about whatever emotional attachment I have to any particular one than about whether I will ever read or re-read any of them, I started pulling out any books that I now find cringe- or eye-roll worthy. So that includes most of the Evangelical ish pushed on me from high school and college (I’m still a Christian, but Captivating and similar BS belong in a garbage fire) as well as early philosophical texts from NYU classes (like Plato and Greek tragedies that I may or may not have read when they were assigned—too douchey). Add in my Brit Lit anthologies and Vlad’s ex-conservative anthologies and I eliminated nearly two shelves’ worth of books.
But the problem I ran into is: what to do with all of these books that I no longer care about? The box weighs about half as much as I do. Spending half the day schlepping them downtown requires more dedication than I currently have. There are no drop offs in my neighborhood. There are no services that do pick ups in my neighborhood. I doubted churches would want the nonChristian books. The local library branch doesn’t accept donations. At this point I’m looking up the paper recycling rules—all paperback books are good to chuck. Cool.
As a last effort I posted in a few of the forums I’m a part of and I got A LOT of suggestions… that did not pan out because of the aforementioned issues. But I absorbed a sufficient amount of guilt that I couldn’t throw them away. So the box is currently taking up space in Vlad’s office.
Books generate so many weird feelings, y’all.
Step Two: Take everything down to sort
Trying to color code by switching books individually is a losing game because you’ll end up second guessing every other position. Save that for the end.
We made piles of the dominant colors, which turned out to be Black, White, Red, Yellow/Orange, Green, and Blue. I recommend not thinking too hard at this stage and going with your first instinct of the dominant color – you can rearrange in more detail later if you are that persnickety (which I am).
Step Three: Break up sections visually
Time to put things back on the shelves! I personally prefer using horizontal and vertical stacks to break up each color and give the eye some relief. I also had more black-colored books than anything else, so I made two sections to break up the brighter colors.
Some folks like to follow the color wheel to the T—I opted for a more random approach. Do what feels good.
Step Four: Doohickeys
My mom kept calling them objets d’art (she is fancy). You might call them tochotches (isn’t that great to spell?). I prefer doohickey. But these are the little objects—photos, figurines, shadow boxes, whatever—that serve no purpose other than being cute. I have way too many. This time around I put up less than half of what was there before. Vlad was grateful.
Step Five: Move everything to the front of the shelf
I just think this looks cleaner.
Step Six: Obsessively move individual books until you’re happy
Skip this one if you can. I could not.
Step Seven: Enjoy
Bask in the emotional an aesthetic pleasure of your newly rearranged bookshelf.